Human feelings can be highly contagious

New research from Aalto University and Turku PET Centre suggests that human feelings can be highly contagious - so much so that strong emotions might synchronise brain activity among different individuals. This research suggests the finding is particularly true when it comes to significant unpleasant feelings.

The investigators looked at how emotions are often copied by others, such as when people return a grin after somebody smiles at them.

It was noted that this type of behaviour might support social interaction, with different members of a group sharing a common emotional state.

As such, their bodies and brains process the information in a similar way - and the new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, has suggested highly arousing events can lead to synchronised activity in the brain networks supporting attention, vision and sense of touch.

Lauri Nummenmaa from the Aalto University explained sharing these emotional states helps to facilitate the understanding of another person's actions and intentions.

Dr Roddy Cowie, a Chartered Psychologist from Queen's University Belfast, comments:

"It is an exciting time for research on interactions. We are finding that mathematical concepts like synchrony and entrainment can be applied at many levels – to verbal behaviours, non-verbal behaviours, emotions, intentions, and in studies like this one, to brain states. That is allowing us to glimpse the ways that human beings connected before they developed language - and without those foundations, humans could have neither language nor symbolic thought."

Dr Cowie;s own work has looked at synchrony in music and conversation.